I was only able to cook for three days because I ended up having a health issue. Srila Prabhupada had a sign in the kitchen that said, “Health is number one, chanting is number two, service is number three and then comes reading”, in that order. It was hand written by Srila Prabhupada. He had that made up when Jadarani had come to visit as she hadn’t been taking care of her health. She was working really hard and Srila Prabhupada made the point in what order of importance we were to take life seriously. We were so young and so foolish that we didn’t know anything except what Srila Prabhupada taught us.
Before I was a devotee, I was a gardener and thus got involved in the first Tulsi planting and distribution of Tulsi throughout the movement. Once we got all the Tulsis being sent out to all the temples, I started to ask about kusa grass because I’d been reading about it in the scriptures as I was really interested in plants. So, it was amazing when my name came in Kusa devi dasi. It was like a big miracle for me, because Srila Prabhupada was in India at the time and how could he know where my head was at? How could he know? Who could have told him? I really felt the confirmation that Srila Prabhupada knew what was going on in our minds at all times. He knew where our consciousness was. My name was Dana so I was expecting some kind of name like Deena, or any name that started with a “D” because that’s how it was done. I also had all these desires. I wanted it to be simple and short. I had all these conditions about how I wanted my name to sound. I didn’t want it to sound odd to the western ear. Then I was given this beautiful, sweet, little short name, Kusa and it was just like Srila Prabhupada knew all the different little conditions of my mind. It was just such a wonderful and enlivening experience.
I remember when we had non-brahmins doing the worship because Gaurasundar, Prabhupada’s secretary, due to Srila Prabhupada’s poor health, didn’t ask him to give more initiations. Since there were only a few brahmins in the temple, we ladies had been doing the arotik. We eventually phoned to Waimanalo to ask Srila Prabhupada if it was okay if first initiates could perform the arotik. We heard through the phone Prabhupada yell, “No, they must be brahmin.” When your spiritual master yells, you take it very seriously. You don’t forget it. Another thing I’ll never forget was the time we were making sprouts for Srila Prabhupada. He said, “Make sure you get each and every sprout. Don’t leave any one of them out. There is a spirit soul in every single one of them.” So we took that very seriously as well. It was amazing how merciful Srila Prabhupada was, even to a sprout, making sure that they all get equal opportunity to be offered to the Lord. That was the compassion of Srila Prabhupada.
Bagaji was telling us beautiful stories how Vrindavan is so special. He said the fish in the Yamuna River will be swimming along and as soon as they feel like they’re getting close to the Ganga, they turn around and swim back towards the Yamuna. Srila Prabhupada was right there listening to everything, so we knew if Srila Prabhupada said “No, that’s not true”, or he didn’t say anything, then we knew what Bagaji was saying was true. Bagaji told us that each grain of sand, if you looked under an atomic microscope, it would say, “Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.” He also said if you looked at the bones of the Vaishnavas, and actually analyzed them, every atom and every cell would say, “Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.” He said the entire atmosphere of Braj was surcharged with the Holy Name of the Lord.
I had a personal question for Srila Prabhupada regarding my situation. My husband had taken a second wife and there was a social experiment at the time with cowivery. I didn’t understand how I was supposed to act in regard to the situation. It was confusing to me and I had no social reference for it. I had no example to follow so I talked to Jayatirtha Prabhu who was travelling with Srila Prabhupada. He insisted that I write to Srila Prabhupada about my concerns. I did so and Srila Prabhupada wrote back and said, “As far as you’re concerned, our instructions are that it’s not about marriage. That’s not what it’s about.” He said, “I’ve given all of my disciples instructions on how to advance in Krishna consciousness and if they can’t follow, then what can I do? But as far as you’re concerned, associate with devotees and increase your hearing and chanting.” I thought he was going to tell me how I was going to function in the situation and he advised me to not associate with my husband. That was surprising to me because I was a young girl with a child, and my parents were still married, so I really didn’t believe in divorce. Srila Prabhupada never said the word ‘divorce’, ever, not once. He just said don’t associate with your husband. I took it to heart and I separated myself from the situation geographically, not emotionally, because I wasn’t really qualified. I was attached to the concept of marriage, but to follow Srila Prabhupada’s instructions anyway I could, even if it wasn’t completely from the pure devotional platform, that I needed to do.
My son was just two weeks old when I went on a morning walk at the very end of 1973. My son was bundled in a big blanket because it was December and Srila Prabhupada asked, “Can he walk?” I said, “No, Srila Prabhupada.” He then said, “If he can walk, he should walk.” I never understood how prophetic and deep and difficult that instruction would be for me because I have a tendency to spoil my loved ones. Srila Prabhupada obviously knew that because it’s been an instruction that I’ve had a really hard time following. Thirty years later I understand the intensity and the import of that instruction and how Srila Prabhupada predicted my problems. It was amazing.
The first day I cooked for Srila Prabhupada I over salted his prasadam. Srila Prabhupada said, “You make everything just like you’re making, but no salt.” He said, “I will add. I know how to add just the right amount. For you, no salt.” I thought I would just die. The next morning while Srila Prabhupada was giving class I got to be used as an example of how over endeavoring is just like over salting the food. I thought I would just die. But there was another part of me that was overjoyed because I could finally understand what “over endeavor” was. I never really comprehended what that was because I was so enthusiastic and fairly fanatical and we were all pretty fanatical at that point. Srila Prabhupada was trying to make a point and he made it so well by using anything that would happen during the day to become ‘food’ for instruction for us. Even though it was really painful and very difficult to take at this point and time I felt overjoyed and it is something that I will never forget.
Srila Prabhupada saved us women one time in India. Ramesvara saw that we had a first class car on the train right next to Srila Prabhupada. He also noticed that there were so many sannyasis that didn’t have as good of accommodations as the women. He said, “We think that the women’s car would be better occupied by some of these more important devotees.” Srila Prabhupada said, “No, they will be stranded. There will be no way they can get out. It won’t be right. We came with them and we are leaving with them.” We were so grateful. Mr. Gupta, the train master, saw we were cooking for ourselves so he would have cows milk brought in. He had things brought special for Srila Prabhupada and made sure we got some of that too. That was all Srila Prabhupada’s arrangement. It was all Srila Prabhupada’s mercy.
There was an amazing incident that took place on the beach at Jagannatha Puri. Srila Prabhupada had been extended an invitation to come for a book dedication event. Prior to that engagement Govinda dasi tried to go in and see the Jagannatha deities at the temple in town and it erupted into such a dreadful mishap. Because the custom was that no western person could enter the temple, she had this concept to pretend that she was an old Indian lady with a cane and a big chaddar. At the evening aroti as she tried to go into the temple they spotted her and ripped off her chaddar. They grabbed her cane, and started beating her with it as she came running out. I was outside waiting for her as I didn’t feel that brave. We both went in and offered dandavats to Srila Prabhupada. She explained with great emotion, “I’ve just been beaten by the chokidars at the temple and I can’t believe this has happened, Srila Prabhupada!” His eyebrows went up and he was really disturbed and visibly moved at Govinda dasi’s plight. I was just quietly taking it all in. The next day when Srila Prabhupada accepted the invitation to the book dedication, he arrived with his sannyasis and a great entourage of devotees. A large dark skinned brahmin handed a book to Srila Prabhupada that he accepted and put it to his head. He said, “I have not read it”, and handed it back to the pundit. Prabhupada immediately began to launch in to this incredibly merciful monologue to them. He said, “Jagannatha is Jagannatha. He is not Orissanatha. He is not Purinatha. His devotees will be coming to visit Jagannatha from all over the world. Why you are not letting in His devotees? Why you are not allowing His devotees who are coming from all over this world to come and get darshan? This is not good.” He said, “They must be allowed to come in and get darshan of their Lord. If you do not let them in, Lord Jagannatha will pack His bags and He will come to live with us.”
One thing about Srila Prabhupada is that he was incredibly kind to the children. By the time my son could walk he was wearing little slip-on dhotis and he would chant and dance so nicely for Srila Prabhupada. Three times Srila Prabhupada said that he was a dancer in a previous life and that he was a great devotee. They had an incredible rasa between the two of them. Every day, my son, Atmarama would give Prabhupada a garland and every single day Srila Prabhupada would take one of his garlands off and garland Atmarama. It was just so beautiful. I remember with great joy Srila Prabhupada made it very clear how important this child seva was and still is.